Black Ties, Flip-Flops Unite

You have to love an event where flip-flops are considered acceptable black-tie attire. When that same event provides you with the opportunity to experience great advertising with your agency partners and provides inspiration for your entire marketing organization, what’s not to like?

In fact, we like it so much that this is Procter & Gamble’s fourth year attending Cannes. The initial skepticism voiced in some creative circles seems to have quieted down. (“A client attending Cannes? Everything will be ruined.”) Now, with the festival still intact, the industry appears to have grown accustomed to the presence. Certainly, P&G’s partner agencies have responded enthusiastically to our participation, and we went to Cannes that first year as much for our agency partners as ourselves.

It’s no secret we were known for “expected” advertising. Cannes was a sign to our partners and the creative world that we really were ready to challenge our paradigms. Seeing our work in the context of the world’s best creative has pushed our boundaries and continues to inspire us to reach consumers’ hearts as well as their minds.

Look at Pampers. This is an incredibly successful brand that had based its equity on “drier, happier babies.” It would have been easy to rest on those laurels; however, the brand didn’t. Today, Pampers is all about caring for babies’ development, which is a much richer, bigger conceptual idea—one that respects our consumer and what’s important to her, and allows us to better serve moms and babies holistically. It’s a better fit for our innovation stream, too. Brands like Olay and Iams have taken a similar approach. And while I can’t give all the credit to Cannes, I will say that it helped open us up to go beyond our traditional “left-brain” approach to advertising.

We believe that our advertising has to touch both the mind and heart of the target—it has to deliver a message that is so incredibly meaningful to them that they want to engage with us and reward us with loyalty. Take the recent print ads for Always that show the product in various shapes that signal “comfort and protection.” Yes, it’s visually arresting and clever, but more importantly, it clearly communicates a message that resonates with women. And it’s a really simple idea with a compelling execution.

The power of simplicity in great advertising is something else that Cannes has reinforced for us. Simple strategies, simple ideas and simple visuals make the best ads. Of course, we’ve always known this, but it’s really apparent at Cannes, where you might be looking at print advertising from 15 to 20 different countries. The words become less important; it’s the visual idea that pulls you in. A wide range of work is featured at Cannes, making it a good place to bring a diverse and global team to learn from the world’s best.

Finally, Cannes is a great training ground for holistic marketing. It’s inspired us to think more broadly about how we’re reaching our consumers and how we can make relationship-building connections. Tide is a great example of this. It’s one of our biggest brands with very high loyalty. Yet, Tide’s full potential was somewhat challenged by the perception of some consumers that it’s expensive. The Tide team did an in-depth immersion with consumers that resulted in innovation that adds value to the brand while meeting consumer needs. That’s reflected in such new products as Tide with a touch of Downy, Tide Coldwater and Tide to Go. The brand married products with a new positioning that makes it relevant from shirts to sheets, and has “showed up” in unexpected places. Tide appeared at the Academy Awards, on The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, on a mobile truck providing free laundry service for families affected by Hurricane Katrina and on the Internet, challenging consumers to save energy via a viral interactive tracker. This is a far cry from the TV demos that used to dominate Tide’s advertising.

So, yes, Cannes has been a great learning experience for us. However, I don’t want to minimize its importance as a relationship-building opportunity for us with our agencies. We have amazing partners, and I have to say that many of them have been patiently (and sometimes not so patiently) pushing us in this direction for years. At the end of the day, we’re at Cannes out of our deep respect for our agency partners. To experience great advertising with your agency partners sitting right next to you, explaining to you what works for them and why, is perhaps the most important learning of all.

While we may still opt for more traditional black attire at galas—we’ve got the good sense to leave the flip-flops to the creatives—Cannes has certainly pushed us in other nontraditional directions. It has inspired our marketers to challenge paradigms, avoid complacency and reset our own standards for what makes great advertising. What’s not to like?